The April Coalition, l97l-l973
l97l – A City Up for Grabs
As Berkeley approached the l97l election, the city had been battered by several years of street fights between police and demonstrators, massive and repeated teargassings (by national guard helicopter during Peoples Park), and police shootings and beatings. Although the Alameda County Sheriffs Deputies (the Blue Meanies) were clearly much more brutal than the Berkeley Police) the south campus community still simmered with hostility towards the Berkeley City Council as a symbol of the conservative establishment. The Council returned this hostility by its actions. There would be a fight in l97l, but the weapons would be votes instead of rocks.
The Left’s Strategy: Community Control of Police
In cooperation with Congressman Dellums, the Berkeley Coalition leadership, Frank Daar, Mal Burnstein and others, had a high-risk, sophisticated strategy for the l97l city election. They would expand their base in the progressive community by creating a broad new umbrella organization to replace the Berkeley Coalition and nominate two white City Council candidates. This grouping came to be known as the April Coalition. The remainder of the slate, a candidate for Mayor and two Council candidates, would be chosen by the Black Caucus, a small group of trusted Dellums supporters. (The l97l edition of the Black Caucus, unlike its l969 predecessor, had left politics, thanks to Community Control of Police eliminating all conservatives, but was a very tiny organization.) Then the entire Dellums-endorsed slate would campaign in favor of the Community Control of Police Initiative that called for the establishment of three separate Berkeley police departments run by elected boards, one for the hills, one for the campus community, and one for the black community.
No Berkeley issue had been more divisive in the preceding three years than the police. Hostility to the police and the Vietnam War now defined the politics of a large segment of the city’s young adults. A l970 City Council meeting to consider the proposed purchase of police helicopters brought out such a large and hostile crowd that it had to be held in the Community Theater. The Council’s public hearing on helicopters ended prematurely because of the crowd’s unrulyness and refusal to let pro-helicopter people speak. The Council ultimately rejected helicopters, but pro and anti-police sentiment still polarized the city.
However, the initiative charter amendment that was to become the center of the police debate had a most unusual background. The Community Control of Police concept had originated with the Black Panther Party and probably was first intended for Oakland, not Berkeley. Signatures were collected over many months by a small, white, local Panther support group, the National Committee to Combat Fascism. The initiative qualified for the November l970 ballot but the City Councilmembers preferred to place it on the April l97l ballot where they hoped to use it as a tool to mobilize conservatives, moderates, and liberals in opposition and thus isolate the left. Therefore, all sides had freely chosen to wage the April l97l election battle over the police initiative.
What made the April Coalition leadership’s strategy so clever was the basic assumption that the police initiative would be badly beaten.However, the strategy concluded that a unified, pro-community control of police, left-wing slate, although receiving only a minority of the vote, would win the City Council race if the Democratic Caucus and the Republicans were each greedy enough to run full slates of their own candidates and fragment the anti-community control of police vote. As April Coalition leader Frank Daar said of the police initiative to a less than enthusiastic student group: “Let’s pick up this millstone and run with it.” Major aspects of this complicated strategy were implemented successfully and the result was a catastrophe for the left.
The April Coalition – Politics as Circus
The April Coalition never really qualified as an organization. It was an amalgamation of forces having extremely distinct agendas. The Berkeley Coalition’s top priority was electing Loni Hancock to the City Council. The merger of the campus Dellums and Meade campaigns produced a strong student electoral organization known as the April 6th Movement (named for election day) whose goals were the election of a U.C. student to the Council (for the first time) as part of a five candidate coalition sweep that would give us a progressive majority. A large number of April Coalition participants cared only about passing the Community Control of Police Initiative. Candidates did not interest them at all. The April Coalition also attracted the counterculture, Men’s Liberation, Kid’s Liberation, and others eager to experiment with different forms of political ideas and expression. There were political idealogues of the left who wanted to purge all Democrats, and liberal Democrats who were repelled by the circus-like, irrational atmosphere of nearly all the meetings. Quite a collection.
A typical April Coalition meeting would include a demand by Wendy Schlesinger, a self-styled feminist leader, that everything had to stop because men and women must immediately meet separately. One mellow individual, finding voting too adversarial, proposed that the slate be selected by having all the prospective candidates meet alone as a group and choose the best two representatives by consensus. Hundreds of hours were spent at countless community workshops developing an April Coalition platform. To quote from the announcement of these meetings: “Each Workshop will have a Female and a Male Convenor, as well as a “Hip” and a “Straight” Convenor.”
The April Coalition Platform produced by the workshops and ratified at a convention resembled Jerry Rubin’s program of four years earlier, except this one had something to say on every possible subject. It contained proposals that ranged from the serious (rent control, gay and disabled rights, limiting housing demolitions, opposing the West Berkeley Industrial Park, preserving neighborhoods, plus many more excellent planks) to the whimsical (establish all-weather hitch hiking stalls, tax churches, demand responsibility for men in contraception, the visionary (minimize the sale and/or use of plastics, halt the city’s population growth) to the absurd (ban private employment agencies, have public school students elect their teachers, eliminate all profit from the practice of medicine, lower the drinking age to ten).
While electoral pragmatists found a great deal of value in many parts of the platform, on balance we would have preferred to burn all copies at once or immediately use them for composting. Meanwhile, the document’s adherents reproduced the platform as campaign literature and tried to distribute it widely. The April Coalition’s opponents often quoted the platform to try and win votes for themselves and to embarrass the Coalition candidates.
Somehow, the schizophrenic pro and anti-electoral April Coalition managed to hold an open convention on January 30, l97l and democratically nominate its two allotted white candidates. Anyone could participate who wanted to and 402 votes were cast on the first ballot, with each person allowed to vote for two choices. Loni Hancock won the first ballot nomination with 265 votes, a clear majority. Finishing second with l77 votes was Rick Brown, a U.C. graduate student supported by the left. Third place with l05 votes went to the leading counterculture candidate, Unitarian minister Paul Sawyer. Student Craig Murphy was fourth with 73 votes, missing the run-off along with several minor candidates. In the second ballot run-off, Brown won the nomination by easily defeating Sawyer with 240 votes to 80.
Rick Brown, 28, had been a leader of the spring l970 student movement known as Reconstitution, when, in response to Nixon’s invasion of Cambodia and the murder of the four Kent State students by Ohio National Guardsmen, a large segment of the Berkeley campus stopped business (classes) as usual and was reconstituted to work full time against the war. The major legacy of Reconstitution today is the separate graduation event for each academic department which permanently replaced the massive, all-campus graduation ceremony which used to take place annually in Memorial Stadium.
The runner-up, Paul Sawyer, was nominated by Florence McDonald and he opened his speech by blowing on a shell to trumpet his candidacy. The fourth place candidate, Craig Murphy, had fought Rick Brown for the student slot within the April 6th Movement. Murphy had actually beaten Brown for the April 6th Movement nomination in a very nasty internal packing fight, but that counted for little at the April Coalition convention. Murphy, more moderate than Brown, was denounced by name at the convention for the political heresy of belonging to the Alameda County Democratic Party Central Committee. (To show how times have changed, BCA now endorses candidates for that obscure office.)
The Hancock and Brown ticket was acceptable to almost everyone involved in the April Coalition. All the defeated candidates dropped out in accordance with a pledge they had signed in order to compete for the nomination. The white left had been unified behind Hancock and Brown for City Council.
There was never a unified left School Board slate. The Berkeley Coalition’s School Board candidate, Louise Stoll, was driven out of the April Coalition convention because she opposed Community Control of Police as segregationist. (It was April Coalition gospel that all candidates for whatever office had to support the police initiative.) Stoll ran anyway and was elected to the School Board with the support of the April 6th Movement, the Daily Californian, and the Democratic Caucus.
The April Coalition did manage to nominate a consensus left candidate for City Auditor, Carole Ruth Silver, later elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Silver lost to conservative incumbent Myrna Ashley who had unified center and right wing support.
The Daily Cal, U.C.’s student newspaper, hopped on the electoral bandwagon with great enthusiasm. Jeff Gordon worked closely with Daily Cal Editor-in-Chief John Emshwiller (who later became a Wall Street Journal reporter) and Editorial Page Editor Steve Dozier. The Daily Cal editorial entitled “Seize the City” was a call to battle. The conservatives reprinted it for their own purposes. The Gazette now had a political competitor.
The Berkeley Black Caucus
Widener for Mayor
While the April Coalition’s electoral leaders successfully struggled to prevent their zoo-like gathering from dissolving, their partner, the Berkeley Black Caucus, disintegrated instead. By pre-arrangement with Congressman Dellums and the leadership of all allied organizations, the progressive candidate for Mayor was to be 32 year old black Councilman Warren Widener. Widener had followed Dellums to the left and become Ron’s protege and closest ally on the City Council. Widener publicly promised to support Community Control of Police and in exchange was to receive nomination by the Black Caucus and endorsement by Dellums and the April Coalition.
Widener appeared to be a reasonable choice for Mayor. He was perhaps best known for a July l970 attempt to file a complaint with the Berkeley Police Department over the police beating of Reverend Dick York of the Berkeley Free Church, a beating to which Widener had been an eyewitness. Councilman Widener, whose identity the police did not know, was very rudely treated by the cops, threatened with arrest, and told to come back later. This police treatment of a citizen trying to file a complaint was widely publicized by Widener and the press. Based on his own experience, Widener’s support for Community Control of Police would have seemed solid.
However, as the candidate filing deadline approached, Widener reached the political conclusion that he could not win the Mayor’s race as a supporter of the police initiative. Never a man of strong convictions, Widener then shocked everyone by flip-flopping without warning and announcing his opposition to the initiative. He still claimed to support community control of police “in principle” and promised to present his own alternative plan later. (He did draft such a plan, but never brought it to the Council for a vote.) Although pressured vehemently by the left, Widener would not budge, leaving the April Coalition/Black Caucus without an official candidate for Mayor. The true lesson of this event, which was not really learned until much later, was the inherent untrustworthiness of Warren Widener.
With his flip-flop coming so near the deadline, Widener had trapped the left without a pro-community control of police mayoralty candidate. That was an obvious part of his strategy. A brief April Coalition boomlet to nominate Mario Savio, leader of the Free Speech Movement, and/or his wife Suzanne, went nowhere. The Mayor’s nomination had after all been promised to the Black Caucus and they recommended no endorsement, to which the April Coalition concurred. Warren Widener would now be the left candidate for Mayor by default, not by nomination. Dellums and Meade both endorsed him and he was ultimately placed at the head of the April Coalition/Black Caucus ticket by independent endorsers such as the Daily Californian and the New Democratic Caucus organized by Jeff Gordon. Widener’s betrayal of the progressive coalition on the police initiative, the first of many betrayals to come, ultimately lost him few if any progressive votes in l97l, while broadening his base in the center. It remains a triumph of successful political opportunism.
D’Army Bailey and Ira Simmons
Unable to nominate a Mayor, the Black Caucus then tried to nominate its allotted two City Council candidates. A small organization, whose decisions were made by a tiny selection committee, the Black Caucus really only had one grassroots, community candidate, Margot Dashiell, a Laney College instructor who had been politically active in Berkeley for years, especially on housing issues. To the surprise of Black Caucus leaders Matt Crawford and Maudelle Shirek, they were suddenly confronted by a self-selected slate of D’Army Bailey and Ira Simmons, a pair of young lawyers and Black Caucus members with a civil rights background but little or no Berkeley ties. Bailey had moved into Berkeley from Contra Costa County just prior to announcing his candidacy for City Council. A graduate of Yale Law School, Bailey grew up in Memphis, Tennessee and had fought segregation as a member of many civil rights organizations. Bailey, 29 years old, and Simmons, 28, demanded that the Black Caucus nominate both of them while simultaneously insisting that they would run for the Council as a team no matter what the Black Caucus did.
D’Army Bailey is the most controversial and divisive figure in modern Berkeley politics. He was simultaneously brilliant, ruthless, articulate, fearless, power-hungry, arrogant, vicious, ideological, expedient, intransigent, anti-establishment, reckless, argumentative, vile-tongued, independent, charming, charismatic, vindictive, tyrannical, mysterious, manipulatory, dynamic, sexist, always tenaciously pro-black, and even more tenaciously pro-Bailey.
As a special bonus, Bailey had a secret source of vast campaign funds which, in the days before disclosure laws, he could and did keep hidden. Concerning his funding source, Bailey was often quoted as saying, “That’s for me to know and for you to find out.” Bailey lasted in Berkeley for less than three years. Some people on the ideological left still consider him a hero. Others on the left are certain he was a government agent planted and financed by the CIA or FBI to infiltrate and destroy the Berkeley progressive political coalition. Another view holds that as a self-avowed black nationalist, Bailey simply represented the spirit of the times and that his secret money source was a white philanthropist whose identity had to be concealed to avoid embarrassment to Bailey. ( Whenever a reporter claimed to have discovered Bailey’s money source, the contributor was invariably white.) It must be emphasized that Bailey was never a supporter of coalition politics. He believed exclusively in black power, especially if it was his black power.
Together with Ira Simmons, who routinely and meekly followed Bailey’s lead on everything, Bailey proved too powerful for the Berkeley Black Caucus to resist. Unable to compete with Bailey’s money, lacking a pair of its own candidates, and unwilling to fight or ask for help, the Black Caucus surrendered its endorsement to Bailey and Simmons as Margot Dashiell withdrew. The Black Caucus’ capitulation to Bailey was the single most important event of l97l. Had anyone intervened to stop it, progressives would likely have had a Council majority by l973. (Having obtained its endorsement, Bailey subsequently ignored the Black Caucus during his campaign and as a Councilmember. The Black Caucus was the first progressive group to publicly denounce Bailey after his election.)
Congressman Dellums promptly endorsed Bailey and Simmons because he had promised his endorsement to the Black Caucus’ choices, and like a domino in a line, the April Coalition dutifully voted to support them because the Black Caucus and Dellums had and we were merely keeping our end of the original bargain. The April Coalition, obsessed with its own permanent internal turmoil, made no independent evaluation to determine if Bailey and Simmons merited endorsement on any basis beyond the litmus test of support for Community Control of Police. The April Coalition thus allowed the Black Caucus endorsement to be a blank check under which all the coalition constituencies’ votes were made payable to D’Army Bailey.
The left was now publicly united behind Bailey, Brown, Hancock, and Simmons for City Council and Widener (unofficially) for Mayor. Could the anti-Community Control of Police forces to the Coalition’s right also unify???
l97l – Fragmentation on the Right
As Berkeley approached the April l97l election, the City Council consisted of four conservative Republicans (Mayor Wallace Johnson, who was not seeking re-election, Tom McLaren, Bordon Price, and John DeBonis), two moderate Democrats (Wilmont Sweeney and Bernice Hubbard May, retiring after three terms), one liberal Democrat (Warren Widener) and two vacancies caused by the resignations of Ron Dellums to enter Congress and moderate Democrat John Swingle who left Berkeley. In addition to the open race for mayor, the Council seats up for election in l97l were those being vacated by May and by DeBonis (to run for Mayor) plus the two vacancies from the resignations.
The Democratic Caucus majority which had governed since l96l was wiped out by the two resignations. The Republicans now had a 4-3 plurality. Since 5 votes on the 9 member body were required for any action, such as the appointment of a new councilmember, the vacancies could only be filled by a Republican/Democratic compromise. A compromise that gave one seat to each party would have produced the first Republican majority in ten years. How could the Democrats vote for that, and how could the Republicans vote to appoint more Democrats? Thus, there was a deadlock and no compromise appointments as the Republican and Democratic Councilmembers could not coalesce after nearly 20 years of electoral warfare.
The entire City Council was, of course, against the police initiative, and that should have motivated them to work together. Any Council appointments would have created new incumbents, powerful frontrunners around whom the anti-community control of police forces could have united to win the election. But there were to be no incumbents, appointed or otherwise, running in the l97l Berkeley election. The race for all seats was to remain totally wide open.
This failure of the Democratic Caucus and Republican Councilmembers to agree on appointments to fill the two Council vacancies was symbolic of everything the moderate and conservative forces did during the l97l campaign. Retiring Republican Mayor Wallace Johnson anointed Vice Mayor Wilmont Sweeney, 45, as his successor and formed an organization called One Berkeley Community (OBC) to support a mixed Democratic/Republican slate under Sweeney and to oppose the police initiative. OBC’s three Council candidates were Democrats Ed Kallgren and Harriet Wood plus Republican Allan Leggett.
To OBC’s right, Concerned Berkeley Citizens (CBC), a more established conservative group, ran a slate that only partially matched OBC. They agreed on Sweeney for Mayor plus Leggett and Kallgren for Council. But Concerned Berkeley Citizens then dropped Harriet Wood and added Council candidates Tom Taylor and Velma Bradley. (CBC was so right wing that Kallgren claims to have considered repudiating their endorsement. He did no such thing, later acknowledging how much this conservative support contributed to his election. (Experiment and Change in Berkeley, Kallgren essay, pages 4l6-4l7.))
The Democratic Caucus met for what turned out to be the very last time on February 8, l97l. Afraid of being overrun by masses of April Coalition infiltrators, the Caucus required all voting members to sign an oath supporting its platform which included opposition to Community Control of Police. Even the April Coalition never went to this extreme. The April Coalition only required support of the police initiative from candidates, while initiative opponents were free to come and participate if they desired. But the Democratic Caucus was too defensive, too fearful of the left, to be that open.
Warren Widener defeated Wilmont Sweeney for the Democratic Caucus endorsement and the Caucus went on to nominate a full City Council slate with no Republicans. It consisted of corporate attorney Ed Kallgren, Harriet Wood and Allen Wilson, both black, and Bob Feinbaum. Kallgren and Wood were endorsed by One Berkeley Community whose Republican candidate, Allan Leggett, the Caucus would not support. A pattern was emerging. The Democratic Caucus would accept Republican votes for its candidates, Kallgren in this case, but would prefer to run all Democrats rather than help elect a registered Republican.
The Democratic Caucus’ selfish policy (in Republican eyes) brought retaliation. The Berkeley Gazette, high patriarch of traditional Republican Berkeley, endorsed still another slate, adding two conservatives not being supported by One Berkeley Community, Fred Weekes and Tom Taylor, while joining Concerned Berkeley Citizens in dropping the Democratic Caucus/One Berkeley Community’s leading black candidate, Harriet Wood. Several other conservative candidates were also in the race. In total, there were six or seven major center-right candidates all opposing the police initiative, exactly the division which the April Coalition strategy had hoped for. Only Ed Kallgren of the Democratic Caucus had received all the moderate to conservative endorsements.
To complete the right wing’s orgy of vote splitting, arch-conservative Republican Councilman John DeBonis ran for Mayor instead of for re-election. A comic symbol for years of hostility to the left, DeBonis considered his real enemies to be sell-out Republicans led by Mayor Johnson who had turned Berkeley into a cesspool by their capitulation to anarchists. Old timers explained that DeBonis had never forgiven Johnson for engineering Governor Reagan’s appointment of Councilmember Joe Bort instead of the more senior, more conservative DeBonis to a Board of Supervisors vacancy in l967. Mayor Johnson wanted the more moderate Bort so that the Republicans could retain the seat against a Democratic challenge. Johnson’s strategy worked when Bort defeated Wilmont Sweeney for Supervisor in November l968. Now DeBonis could have his revenge against both Johnson and his designated successor, Sweeney, by running for Mayor himself and taking enough hard core conservative votes away from Sweeney to elect Widener.
Of all the moderate and conservative candidates who split the anti-community control of police vote in l97l, DeBonis was the only one who appeared, at least sometimes, to do it intentionally and with a perverse glee. After years of suffering as an outcast at the hands of his fellow Republican, Wallace Johnson, DeBonis could have the last laugh by single handedly demolishing the Johnson/Sweeney coalition and electing Widener as Mayor. Representing the far right and the far left of the Council as it stood in early l97l, DeBonis and Widener even started voting together as a minority of two on issues such as opposition to Mayor Johnson’s West Berkeley Industrial Park Project.
The April Coalition Campaign
The April Coalition’s l97l campaign appeared on the surface to be going perfectly. The election was extraordinarily exciting. The left’s united four-person City Council slate had been achieved, endorsed by Congressman Dellums (who supported Community Control of Police) and by Assemblyman Meade (who opposed the police initiative). A campus voter registration drive which I organized under the April 6th Movement banner was in the process of helping register l0,000 more new voters.
The April 6th Movement held a memorable Sproul Steps noon rally on February ll, l97l, the deadline for registering to vote. The day prior to our rally had featured an anti-war march against the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission office in Berkeley that turned into a major street fight, complete with rock throwing, window breaking and battles with the police. By campus tradition, at a time of crises or confrontation, demonstration participants, street fighters, and interested bystanders would gather by the Sproul Steps at noon of the following day (the day and time of our voter registration rally) for their rally.
Peter Birdsall, Jeff Gordon, and I all had the same thought: CANCEL OUR RALLY! But the U.C. Administration pressured us not to cancel. The University wanted the April 6th Movement to go through with its scheduled rally so that confrontation-oriented speakers couldn’t take over the Sproul Steps and incite further damage to people or property.
Finally, we decided to look upon this as a political opportunity. We would try to incite the crowd to register to vote and participate in the city election. Facing a non-electoral group (estimated to be 2,000 strong) that expected to hear about street battles with the police and the Federal Government, Jeff, Peter, and I did our best imitation of firebrands preaching revolution at the ballot box.
I began my speech by yelling at the crowd: “The Pigs don’t want you to Vote!” Following that ideological tone, we made the plea for overturning the system by voting in it. I believe we were successful in keeping the crowd entertained. At least nobody threw things. After the rally finished, the lines at the voter registration tables did seem to have become longer. The street fight took place later in the day. Shortly afterwards, at an April Coalition party, a cake was brought out with icing that read: “The Pigs don’t want you to Register.” It’s still the only time I have ever been misquoted by a cake.
Meanwhile, the moderate/conservative opposition was in complete shambles, except for the endorsement of Kallgren by all anti-police initiative factions. Yet the April Coalition had two problems which nearly caused its destruction and were a clear warning of a grim political future.
Problem l: Community Control of Police
A large segment of the April Coalition didn’t care about City Council candidates. All they wanted to do was campaign for the police initiative. The April Coalition’s electoral leadership, knowing the initiative would lose badly, had to struggle every inch of the way to conduct a campaign for the City Council candidates which could win the votes of at least some liberals who opposed the police initiative as segregationist. Many April Coalition people were intoxicated with the thrill of revolutionary power. They weren’t very helpful either. Ultimately, much of the pragmatic campaigning was conducted independently of the April Coalition by Jeff Gordon and Peter Birdsall of the campus-based April 6th Movement. They produced a city-wide campaign, including mailings for a variety of slates, not all of which agreed with the April Coalition’s endorsements beyond the Council candidates.
Some assistance was provided by the formation of the Citizens Committee for Community Control (the 4 C’s) who attempted to conduct a respectable, educational campaign for the police initiative, relieving the April Coalition of at least part of this burden and supplanting the National Committee to Combat Fascism, the tiny group whose tireless signature gathering efforts had put the initiative on the ballot. Tom Hayden, now Democratic Assemblyman from Santa Monica, was living in Berkeley at the time and produced a leaflet to motivate alienated radicals and hippies to register to vote. Working with Rick Brown and the Community Control of Police campaign, Hayden also helped to organize a pig roast.
Problem 2: Bailey and Simmons
It was apparent from the beginning to Loni Hancock, Rick Brown, and most April Coalition leaders that Bailey and Simmons would be extremely difficult to work with, at best. Initially, Bailey and Simmons refused to campaign for Hancock and Brown in the black community, promising to conduct a joint campaign at some future date after they had established their own credentials. Having discarded the Black Caucus, Bailey started his campaign from scratch in the black community with, on the plus side: the Dellums endorsement and apparently unlimited funds; while on the minus side: he had no grassroots black support, a campaign office in the hills, a white campaign manager who was new to Berkeley, and a nearly all-white staff.
The April Coalition conducted formal negotiations with Bailey and Simmons throughout the campaign to try and work towards the harmonious coalition we were advertising to the public. One of the April Coalition’s earliest negotiators, Evie Wozniak, returned from a few meetings with the Bailey and Simmons campaign advocating that we publicly disassociate from them at once. Instead, she was replaced by a new negotiator.
The April Coalition campaigned for the four person City Council slate under the slogan: “Working Together We Can Make a Change” which was first used by Bailey and Simmons. Only at the start of the campaign, and very rarely thereafter, did any April Coalition or April 6th Movement literature fail to cover all four candidates. But the “working together” part was a fraud. Bailey would accept coalition support, such as making impressive campus appearances at Sproul Steps rallies for the entire slate, but he would give much less in return.
By the middle of the campaign, the April Coalition leaders recognized that Bailey was inherently anti-coalition and impossible to work with and feared that electing him might be suicidal. Secret meetings were held in the later stages of the campaign by Hancock, Brown, and their closest advisers to decide whether to continue the hypocritical coalition charade in order to win the election, or publicly break with Bailey and Simmons, probably lose all four Council seats and sacrifice years of political work in order to maintain personal integrity. It was a trap since both options were horrible. The candidates themselves, Loni Hancock and Rick Brown, tended to favor the personal integrity position, but theirs was a minority view among the leadership. People had spent too much time trying to win this election to throw it all away now. Integrity lost to expediency and the April Coalition continued to campaign for Bailey, Brown, Hancock, and Simmons right through election day, hiding the truth about Bailey from the coalition’s own campaign workers and constituency.
The l97l Issues
In addition to Community Control of Police, the l97l campaign was full of issues, at least on the part of the April Coalition and the April 6th Movement. Their literature, relying on the best portions of the April Coalition Platform stressed:
- Adopting rent control;
- Halting the spread of ticky-tacky apartment buildings that were destroying older houses in the campus area and elsewhere;
- Ending the Council’s cultural war against the South Campus community;
- Providing city money for community service agencies such as the Berkeley Free Clinic;
- Opposition to the proposed Marina Shopping Center;
- Opposition to the Council’s West Berkeley Industrial Park, a project which involved large scale demolition of houses in Ocean
View, Berkeley’s oldest neighborhood;
- Supporting the initiative ordinance on the April ballot to repeal the City Council’s utility user’s tax, a tax on PG&E bills. This initiative had been circulated by a group interested in city economics called RIOT (Refusers of Illegal and Oppressive Taxes). It passed: YES 26,64l(58%) to NO l9,l6l(42%), the first of a never-ending parade of successful progressive initiatives;
- Ending the city manager form of government;
- Support for affirmative action hiring of minorities and women by city government;
- City Council activism to oppose the Vietnam War.
The April Coalition’s opponents rarely discussed any issue besides their opposition to Community Control of Police, but they were on record in disagreement with nearly all of the above April Coalition positions. The one real exception was the proposed Marina Shopping Center which had aroused sufficient opposition that Ed Kallgren campaigned against it. Basically, the April Coalition’s opponents tried to panic the electorate with horror stories about how the city would collapse if Community Control of Police passed. They were so scared themselves that vast conservative campaign resources were wasted flailing away at the police initiative rather than dealing with the right wing’s real problem – massive vote splitting among their candidates for Council and Mayor.
The media highpoint of the entire Community Control of Police campaign was a televised debate between the initiative’s most prominent supporter and opponent, Congressman Dellums vs. Vice Mayor Sweeney. The other media highpoint was a classic Jeff Gordon manipulation. Jeff planted a question about the Berkeley election at Governor Reagan’s March 23, l97l news conference. Reagan responded, concerning the possibility of an April Coalition victory: “I just hope it isn’t going to happen.” In l97l, Reagan was probably less popular in Berkeley then he is now. The April Coalition and April 6th Movement immediately denounced the governor’s intervention into the city election and called for everyone to support the coalition candidates as a way to demonstrate anti-Reagan sentiment. Jeff even printed large posters advertising Reagan’s “attack” upon our candidates and urging the campus community to retaliate by voting for the April Coalition.
On the humorous side, the April 6th Movement conducted a unique raffle, a real door prize, but not just any door. It was the door to John DeBonis’ former office, complete with an American flag, his name and Councilmember designation, and his occupation of accountant. The door came from a building being demolished and it was such high camp that a scavenger donated it to the April Coalition which offered it to the April 6th Movement. Each day we carried the DeBonis Door to Sather Gate where it attracted attention to our table and sold countless raffle tickets. On April 5th, the day before election, the climax of our Sproul Steps get-out-the vote rally was the DeBonis Door raffle drawing. DeBonis, a good sport at heart, wanted the door, and he not only bought raffle tickets. He actually came to our rally, delivered a short campaign speech, and then drew the raffle winner from a hat which I held containing all the entries. DeBonis won neither his door nor the election, but everyone who saw and heard him gained respect, even fondness, for his kind and plucky spirit, so different from DeBonis’ nasty public image.
The Voters Speak
Election day, April 6, l97l, was conducted in an atmosphere of near hysteria by all sides, fostered in large part by the Gazette with some support from the Daily Californian which was trying hard to encourage a huge student turnout for the April Coalition plus Widener. Both papers hurled charges of voter fraud at the other side. April 6th Movement Get Out the Vote literature referred to “The Battle of Berkeley”. The Berkeley Gazette and the April 6th Movement each used pictures of the police to rally their forces, respectively bleeding from and shooting at demonstrators. Multiple get out the vote drives produced a massive, record April turnout of over 5l,000 voters, nearly identical to the number of people voting in November l970.
At the vote count in the Berkeley Community Theater where the leadership of all the campaigns traditionally assembles together for the only time, the early totals showed Community Control of Police losing by 2 to l, while Sweeney and Widener were even, and for the Council, Kallgren was first followed by the four Coalition candidates. The police initiative was clobbered by both the hills and the black community. But, according to the April Coalition’s original City Council strategy, the anti-police initiative majority destroyed itself with political greed and vote splitting by the center and the right. With TV camera lights filling the hall, the final precincts put Widener on top by less than 50 votes to the accompaniment of a radical commune waving red flags and the entire April Coalition contingent cheering as if the man we had denounced for treachery three months earlier was really our candidate all along. DeBonis received over 5,000 conservative votes, making the Widener victory possible. (Widener kept his victory in spite of a hand recount of every vote demanded by Sweeney and a Sweeney lawsuit over mailed absentee ballots received after election day which the court also ordered counted. In l97l Berkeley used paper ballots marked by a hand stamp instead of today’s computer punch cards. Determining which candidate was “stamped” could change votes in a recount.)
Those same last precincts which put Widener on top to stay also elected Ira Simmons to the fourth and final City Council spot by 22 votes over Rick Brown, who did not request a recount. In hindsight, Simmons’ 22 vote advantage over Brown meant that the April Coalition had elected only one candidate, Loni Hancock, who would ultimately be isolated on the Council for two years.
The April 6, l97l results: 5l,48l voters
Community Control of Police
NO 33,726(68%) FAILED
elected Warren Widener 2l,923(43%) Democratic Caucus, (April Coalition votes)
Wilmont Sweeney 2l,876(43%) One Berkeley Community (OBC), Gazette, CBC
John DeBonis 5,l70(l0%) Independent Republican
elected Ed Kallgren 20,787(40%) Democratic Caucus, OBC, Gazette, CBC
elected D’Army Bailey l9,728(38%) April Coalition/Black Caucus
elected Loni Hancock l8,897(37%) April Coalition/Black Caucus
elected Ira Simmons l6,780(32%) April Coalition/Black Caucus
Rick Brown l6,758(32%) April Coalition/Black Caucus
Allan Leggett l6,504(32%) OBC, Gazette, CBC, Republican
Harriet Wood l5,534(30%) OBC, Democratic Caucus
Fred Weekes l2,635(24%) Gazette, Moderate/ Conservative Independent
Tom Taylor ll,662(22%) Gazette, CBC
Alan Wilson 9,473(l8%) Democratic Caucus
Bob Feinbaum 4,95l(l0%) Democratic Caucus
On election night, the above results made it appear to the press, the April Coalition, and the world that the City Council would be split 4-4, with Widener, Hancock, Bailey and Simmons on the left facing holdovers Sweeney, McClaren and Price, plus newcomer Kallgren on the right, with one seat vacant, Widener’s Council seat which he gave up to become Mayor. Loni Hancock would succeed Bernice Hubbard May as the only woman on the Council. Time Magazine’s April l8, l97l issue even pictured four leftist winners joining hands in unity on page l6. Given the apparent 4-4 split, whoever was appointed to the vacancy, assuming any person could obtain the necessary 5 votes, would hold the balance of political power on the Council.
The reality was that the April Coalition’s voting power, centered in the campus area, downtown, and north central Berkeley, had elected four candidates. Widener, Bailey, and Simmons had helped their own causes by receiving respectable votes in the Black Community even while losing there to more conservative rivals. All four winners owed their victories first to conservative vote-splitting and second to the precincts designated as the campus area in the police initiative, the only place where the initiative passed. But the April Coalition constituency, which had elected Loni Hancock, plus Bailey, Simmons and Widener, was soon to learn
the difference between putting people in office and holding them accountable to the platforms upon which they ran.